Series is a contest again for first time since Trent Bridge day one
Lunch: Fourth Test, day two, The Oval
Match score: England 126-2 (Bell 29*, Pietersen 18*, Strauss 40; Sharma 16-7-24-1) Full scorecard
Session score: England 51-2 India win
Ask any England bowler the secret of their recent success and they will tell you it’s all about the build-up of pressure, not the fanciful conjuring of unplayable deliveries at regular intervals.
To much rubbing of eyes in astonishment, India’s seamers got with the programme and suffocated Andrew Strauss into submission.
On a gloriously sunny morning seemingly made for batting, Strauss didn’t score a run for 20 minutes. He managed only two singles in an hour’s batting before chasing a wideish one from Sreesanth and edging behind.
Strauss swished his bat in annoyance. He had been patient but not patient enough. His wicket was just reward for India’s bowlers who, after a listless display on day one, bowled to an off-stump plan and swung the ball in a way not evident yesterday.
Sreesanth bowled with good pace and an upright seam, Sharma, who was the pick of a bad bunch yesterday, showed some hostility.
In the field, Virender Sehwag, fielding at slip in the absence of Rahul Dravid who was off the field, held a catch, and Suresh Raina athletically prevented Strauss from scoring off two well-timed cover drives from just before he got out.
Raina thought he had Kevin Pietersen caught at leg gully – an astute field placing as Pietersen was walking across his stumps – diving forward off Sharma the last ball before lunch but inevitably the TV replay was inconclusive and Pietersen survived. A third wicket in the session would have put India on top as opposed to on even terms.
But another indication of India’s haphazard attitude to this series was revealed by Sanjay Manjrekar on Sky. He explained how RP Singh had flown in from Miami to play in this Test. What he was doing there did not emerge but he certainly wasn’t netting.
Strauss is at an interesting point in his career. He has scored one fifty in 10 Test innings since the Ashes. He has batted doggedly in this series often in difficult conditions and reached double figures on each occasion but batting looks harder for him now than any of his frontline colleagues.
On Tuesday after practice he had a weary look about him. As he trudged up the steps into the dressing room he exchanged a glance with Monty Desai, the coach of the Rajasthan Royals who happened to be in town. “Hard work,” sympathised Desai. “It never ends,” said Strauss with a wry smile.
For him, though, it does end because after this Test and presumably some Championship cricket for Middlesex he will be able to rest until the New Year when England play their next Test series against Pakistan in the UAE.
So there is much-need time to recharge batteries but all the while Alastair Cook may be burnishing his reputation with the one-day side which could hasten the end for England’s Test captain.
John Stern is a former editor of The Cricketer
Follow him on Twitter @Cricketer_John